Tuesday

Apr. 10, 2012

Ingratitude

by Carl Dennis

Spring, I remembered you all these months.
I spoke of the green yard under the snow
To my slumped visitors.
I sobered the giddy neighbors.
"You may think you're still happy,"
I cautioned, "but recall the tea roses,
The lost leaves of the dogwood tree."

But now you have fallen upon us, Spring,
Without warning,
So much greener than I remembered.
Friends I kept from forgetting
Laugh at me as they run outside
For falling so short in your praise.

"Ingratitude" by Carl Dennis, from New and Selected Poems 1974-2004. © Penguin Books, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who said: "Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going." Paul Theroux (books by this author), born in Medford, Massachusetts (1941). After college he went in the Peace Corps and taught school in Malawi, Africa, and he wrote. Ten years after college graduation, he had written ten books, and it was the 10th that made his reputation: The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue of his four-month trip across Asia. His advice for aspiring writers: "Leave home. Because if you stay home people will ask you questions that you can't answer. They say, "What are you going to write? Where will you publish it? Who's going to pay you? How will you make a living?" If you leave home, no one asks you questions like that."

His advice for aspiring travel writers is the same: leave home. But without a companion, and never by plane. Theroux prefers trains. He said: "Ever since childhood, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it."

It's the birthday of Anne Lamott (books by this author), born in San Francisco in 1954. Lamott was an alcoholic who went to rehab, became a Christian, started teaching writing, and published a journal of the first year of her son's life, Operating Instructions (1993), to great acclaim.

She said: "Nothing can break the mood of a piece of writing like bad dialogue. My students are miserable when they are reading an otherwise terrific story to the class and then hit a patch of dialogue that is so purple and expositional that it reads like something from a childhood play by the Gabor sisters. ... I can see the surprise on my students' faces, because the dialogue looked okay on paper, yet now it sounds as if it were poorly translated from their native Hindi."

F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby (books by this author) was published on this day in 1925. The title was not one Fitzgerald liked; he'd asked his editor, Maxwell Perkins, to change it to either Trimalchio or Gold-Hatted Gatsby just a month prior, but Perkins had advised him against both. Shortly after, Fitzgerald requested a change to Under the Red, White and Blue, but by then it was too late. Fitzgerald remained convinced that the title wasn't a good one even after it was published; in hindsight, it's hard to imagine the book carrying his previous suggestions — like Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires, On the Road to West Egg, or The High-Bouncing Lover.

Fitzgerald was already a huge celebrity, his This Side of Paradise having made him one five years prior, but Gatsby was not nearly as commercially successful as his first two novels had been. The book got a boost, though, nearly 20 years later when the American military distributed nearly 150,000 copies to WWII servicemen, but it wasn't until the 1960s that it was widely accepted as a great American novel.

It's the birthday of William Hazlitt (books by this author), born in Maidstone, England (1778). When he was 19 he walked 10 miles to hear Samuel Coleridge and then he walked 200 miles to visit Coleridge at home. Hazlitt became a portrait painter and then, when he started a family and needed to support them, he was a journalist and essayist for The Morning Chronicle and The Examiner. He wrote about art and sports, drama, politics, reviewed books, and then took up lecturing, which was lucrative. He was an innovator in the development of the personal essay—the essay written in the first person, which is more discursive and is free to wander away from the main theme.

Hazlitt said, "Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not be able to find my way across the room."

And, "The most silent people are generally those who think most highly of themselves."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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